McKeever Conwell, co-manager of the Pre-Seed Builder Fund at TEDCO, has been awarded a scholarship by Cross Culture Ventures for investor training at the Stanford- and 500 Startups-led VC Unlocked: Silicon Valley, August 2019 cohort.
In his job at TEDCO, Conwell makes pre-seed investments for the Maryland Technology Development Corp, which gets about $21 million each year to grow the Maryland entrepreneurial ecosystem. A state fund, TEDCO was created by the Maryland legislature in 1998 to help commercialize and transfer tech from research universities and federal labs to the marketplace and help grow tech-based businesses.
VC Unlocked is an invitation-only investor training program for emerging leaders who want to shape the future of the venture capital industry. The program is led by Stanford University faculty Michael Lepech, Mike Lyons, and Pedram Mokriam and 500 Startups’ Managing Partners Christine Tsai and Bedy Yang. An early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator, 500 Startups promotes diversity and inclusion.
Marlon Nichols, a previous guest lecturer at VC Unlocked, and his team at Cross Culture Ventures reserved the scholarship for an investor from an underrepresented background, according to 500 Startups.
Conwell described his unconventional career path as an investor in a 500 Startups interview.
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He said it was a miracle that he got the job at TEDCO — “a black man with no college degree but a whole lot of hustle.” Then he set out “to try to be the investor I wish I had.”
Conwell had no experience in investing when he got hired at TEDCO but said he had built up a brand as someone who was very helpful to other founders and the local ecosystem. “Investing is a job that a lot of people want but few truly understand,” he said. “Not to mention I want to be known as a good investor period but I get labeled as an impact investor or diverse investor by virtue of being black.”.
Rather than an impact investor, Conwell said he’s a generalist tech investor who happens to have a different source for deal flow than other investors.
“I also aspire to have my own fund eventually but I don’t have the kind of capital to put up a percentage of the fund amount and I don’t have the friends and family I could raise that money from,” he said. “My entire career and path has been unconventional and when I raise a fund it will probably be unconventional too.”
Baltimore and Maryland have a vibrant tech ecosystem anchored by amazing universities, Conwell said. The state is a hub for cybersecurity with 74 federal labs — many doing tech transfer programs — not to mention a lower cost of living than New York and D.C.
His advice for aspiring VCs?
“Don’t do it for the money,” Conwell said. “Do it for the people and the intellectual exercise of working with different companies in different industries. Take your time to really learn the business of venture capital and then question everything … Your network is key.”
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 31: McKeever Conwell II
Jamarlin talks to investor and serial entrepreneur McKeever Conwell II about being inspired by a teacher to become an engineer, getting recruited out of college by a U.S. intelligence agency, and making pre-seed investments for Maryland’s tech development state fund, TEDCO.
Here’s what Conwell said he hopes take away from the VC Unlocked program:
“I’m hoping to have my thoughts and viewpoints of investing and my thesis challenged by many other smart VCs. I’m also looking forward to getting better at venture finance. More than anything I’m looking forward to learning from so many other amazing VCs and peers who care about startups and their founders as much as I do.”